In 1944, Edward James, a wealthy British poet and artist and early patron of surrealist art, purchased a plot of land in Mexico’s Huasteca region. For the next forty years, James designed and built a network of canals and pools in this rugged region, which he interspersed with whimsical sculptures and architectural structures to create a surrealist landscape. James collaborated with Plutarco Gastélum Esquer and local artisans to create his surrealist vision. There are more than thirty architectural follies at Las Pozas, including a stairway to nowhere, a library without books, a cinema with no seats, and La Casa de Tres Pisos que Podrían Ser Cinco (The Three-Story House that Might Be Five), which, in fact, has five. Since James’s death in 1984, the tropical trees and plants have grown and interwoven with the structures to great dramatic effect, further marrying the natural world with man-made elements. However evocative this may be, though, vegetation may cause significant damage to the structures if allowed to grow unchecked. Stewardship of the site must consider the preservation of the built heritage alongside the wild environment.
How We Helped
Las Pozas was included on the 2010 Watch and WMF, with the support of Friends of Heritage Preservation, helped restore the Edward James Cabin and a group of concrete structures built around the wood and bamboo cabin, used originally by Mr. James and his pet snakes. The work included the conservation of the poems he wrote on its walls. WMF also supported the research of a student from the University of Pennsylvania who is writing a graduate thesis on the conservation challenges of Las Pozas. The restoration of The Three-Story House that Might Be Five began in the fall of 2012. This phase of work included the installation of an interpretive display intended to teach visitors about the site and James’s legacy. It addressed the drainage gully and reinforcement of the retaining walls that surrounded the house, before undertaking the stabilization of its structure. The team worked in creating an underpinning and new structural support for the house, whose fragile structure would not survive further seismic activities. Repairs to existing perimeter channels helped prevent water infiltration to the building by capturing the water from the hill and diverting it to the nearby stream and pools. The work was completed in summer 2013.
Why It Matters
In addition to being recognized on an international level, Las Pozas is a site that is used and appreciated by the local community. Environmental factors that pose the greatest threat to the site and yet they are the same elements that make the site so visually compelling. The challenge is to preserve and protect the architectural structures from their sometimes hostile and uncontrollable environment and preserve James’s intention of situating fantastical exotic creations within a natural landscape. The conservation of Las Pozas will demonstrate how built structures and a naturalistic landscape can coexist without causing the destruction of each other.